With tears in her eyes, Connie Cotter clutched the “Love, Shirley Temple” auction catalog to her chest as melodies of “On the Good Ship Lollipop” filled the Little Theatre.
She was looking at one of the many Shirley Temple dolls that the actress owned as a child. It made Cotter think of her mother and how they watched Shirley Temple movies together.
“It’s what I always wanted,” Cotter, 61, of Wichita, said of the Shirley Temple doll. “This is me pursuing a childhood dream. It’s always been on my bucket list.”
Fans had the chance to see pieces of film history Monday when a treasure trove of items from Temple’s childhood went on display for the first time in Kansas City. From noon to 8 p.m., hundreds of fans streamed through the space adjacent to Municipal Auditorium. On Tuesday, the items will go up for sale.
More than 550 items, dating from 1928 to 1940, will be a part of the sale, including hundreds of dolls and toys, as well as 100 of Temple’s film costumes. Maryland-based Theriault’s auction house, which runs 70 percent of the global auction market for dolls, is organizing the auction on behalf of Temple’s estate. All auction spots are reserved.
During the preview, many snapped photos of the one-of-a-kind dresses, while grandmothers pointed out iconic photos to their grandchildren. Little girls even donned wigs similar to Temple’s golden curls. For many, the auction was an emotional experience because Temple was a major part of their childhoods. During the Great Depression, she was optimism.
When Temple died in February 2014 at the age of 85, she left instructions that her childhood items be placed in museums and on auction in order to preserve “that moment in time,” said Stuart Holbrook, president of Theriault’s. During her 30-year career, Temple starred in more than 80 films and was the youngest person to be honored with a special Oscar.
“There’s no more perfect American story than Shirley Temple’s, so we thought, ‘What’s more American than having it in the middle of the country,’” Holbrook said. The exhibit is unprecedented because Temple was one of the few child stars to preserve all of her film costumes, he said. Theriault’s has worked with Temple’s children, who will be in Kansas City for the auction, to help preserve their mother’s legacy.
The items were part of a three-month traveling museum that visited eight cities across the country and is having its grand finale in Kansas City with the auction. It also coincides with the United Federation of Doll Clubs annual convention, which is being held at the Downtown Marriott this week.
It’s hard to tell which item will sell at the highest price, Holbrook said. Some of the most famous items include the polka dot dress Temple wore in her 1934 breakout film, “Stand Up and Cheer,” with an opening bid of $20,000; her baby grand Steinway piano with a personal inscription from Steinway, with an opening bid of $30,000; and the child-sized racing car given to her by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, with an opening bid of $10,000. (Robinson and Temple were the first interracial dance ensemble in Hollywood, appearing together in “The Little Colonel.”)
Less pricey items include a 1945 memoir, “My Young Life,” with a high bid of $95; a stuffed panda, with a high bid of $200; and a childhood sketch book, with a high bid of $200.
Between 400 to 500 people are expected to attend the auction, and people from all over the world will be bidding online. The first row of seats are reserved for Shirley’s Army, a recently formed group of passionate Temple enthusiasts.
Melissa Tonnessen, 51, sees herself as the “Colonel” of Shirley’s Army and traveled from New Jersey for the auction. She can recall the Saturday when she, as a 10-year-old, watched Temple in “The Little Princess” for first time. Next to giving birth to her child, she said, meeting Temple and speaking with her for 20 minutes during Temple’s book tour in the ’80s was the best moment of her life.
Tonnessen is a teacher, so she’s hoping to purchase a photo of Temple and her teacher. She knows exactly where she’ll put it in her classroom and what she’s going to say to her students when they see it. To her, the auction isn’t just the selling of Temple’s personal items, but a way to share her legacy with a younger generation.
“She was one of a kind. She came in the middle of the Depression when that shot of optimism was needed and people were desperate to have it,” Tonnessen said, trying to hold back tears. “Even if people don’t know too much about her or the history, you just look at her and smile.”
After three decades in the movie industry, Shirley Temple Black (her second husband was Charles Black, a former naval officer) went on to be a U.S. representative to the United Nations; the U.S. ambassador to Ghana; the first woman to be U.S. chief of protocol, during Gerald Ford’s administration; and the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia, according to shirleytemple.com.
When Irene Cantwell, 90, was growing up, she said every girl wanted to be as cute as Temple. She remembers her mother constantly lengthening a Temple-esque dress for her because she kept growing out of it. Cantwell, who traveled from California for the auction, said seeing Temple’s film memorabilia in color — instead of in a black-and-white movie — is “just wild.”
“I wish she could have been here to see all of this and how happy she makes people and how they care a lot about her,” Cantwell said. “I think people will be like that for a long time.”
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Even though the reservations for the Shirley Temple auction are booked, fans can still participate online. The auction will have a live stream, and people can bid in real time. Fans can watch and bid in the auction through the website proxibid.com/theriaults.